The story lines heading into this game were all about who Illinois wanted and lost. Mostly it was about Jeremiah Tilmon, the coveted post from East St. Louis, and Mark Smith, the heralded guard from Edwardsville. Both players Illinois coaches wanted on their roster. Tilmon never made it to Champaign, while Smith made it but transferred and landed in Columbia.
Little fuss was made about Javon Pickett. The unranked, oft-forgotten member of the 2017 John Groce recruiting class. When Brad Underwood took over the reigns, he was given his release with very little fanfare. Even when Missouri picked him up the collective reaction was essentially a shrug.
Even at this stage I’m not sure what to think of Pickett. He’s not the most fluid athlete, he’s got kind of a goofy shot, so it’s easy to see a place where more talented guys land on the roster and Pickett moves to the background a little. You also know me well enough to understand I rarely overreact to the effort of one game, but it’s hard to deny Pickett’s play hasn’t warranted him a little more respect than he’s been afforded to date.
There’s a long list of guys who figure out their limitations and work around them, and perhaps that’s who Pickett is. He’s got good length and plays with a level of effort you can see him develop into a defensive menace. And if he can continue to shoot from outside at a near 40% clip he’s just going to be plain valuable for the rest of his career even if the roster gets stacked with more highly regarded guys like CamRon Fletcher or Josh Christopher.
- Missouri rarely wins the BCI, but this was a domination: They made Illinois a pretty one-note offense. If Trent Frazier was creating offense the Illini were fine, once he slowed down the Tigers got separation. An 8.6% assist rate is pretty amazing from a defensive side. Mizzou was able to choke down passing lanes and really limit Illinois is so many ways.
Right now Illinois isn’t a good basketball team, but Underwood is still pretty good at putting his limited roster in position to make plays. And the Tigers choked all of that off.
On the other side of the floor we saw improved ball movement. Missouri coughed the ball up a lot early with six turnovers in the first six minutes, before settling down for 10 the remaining 34 minutes of play. And basically once you break through the initial pressure of the Illini defense they just aren’t good enough to stop you on the back end, which helps explain the elevated assist rate.
- The Tigers advantage was clearly on the interior, where the Illini aren’t very good at all: But Mizzou has also been pretty 3-point heavy this season. It seems if Tilmon isn’t making a post move, Mizzou is then shooting a three. On the season Mizzou’s 3FGA to FGA is around 40%, Illinois shoots around 39% of their shots from deep. In the Bragging Rights game it was 36.2% for the Tigers, and 49.9% for Illinois. What this tells me is the Tigers were able to take Illinois out of what they wanted to do and made them take a lot of jumpshots, while the Tigers basically did what they wanted to do and were able to attack closer to the rim.
- ELITE FTA DEFENSE: That devastating 24-4 run to finish the Illini off featured an 0-5 performance from Illinois players from the Free Throw line. Before that they were 7-of-9 from the line, so not only does Mizzou have elite Free Throw defense, they have CLUTCH elite free throw defense. Coming through when it matters.
Your Trifecta: Jordan Geist, Jeremiah Tilmon, Javon Pickett
On the season: Jordan Geist 16 points, Mark Smith 13 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 12 points, Kevin Puryear 7 points, Javon Pickett 6 points, Torrence Watson 5 points, Xavier Pinson 4 point, Reed Nikko 1 point.
My lord the line from Jordan Geist, 20 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, a steal, just two turnovers in 36 minutes? If you haven’t read C.J. Moore’s piece over at theAthletic.com on Jordan Geist I highly recommend it (it’s less than $50 for a year and I personally think CJ is one of the must-reads in college hoops). But Cuonzo Martin and Jordan Geist have turned into a perfect marriage as player and coach. Both born out of grit and toughness, with Geist basically willing himself into the player he is today. He’s still prone to some inefficiency at times, but he looks so much more confident with the ball and it shows in his turnover rate, which is down overall to just 16.2%. For a guy who is not a primary point guard by nature to take the responsibility and turn in those kinds of numbers is an achievement.
JEREMIAH TILMON NEVER FORGET: Illinois fans were insistent they didn’t need you on their team when you decided not to go to their school. Somehow I think they could’ve used a big man capable of putting up 16 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks against Missouri.
A lot has been made about his decision to play for Mizzou, and the last six games have proven what kind of player Tilmon can be: 14.2 points, 8.5 boards, 72% FT, 61.5% FG, and 3.3 PF. He’s gotten his fouls committed under control in this stretch and it’s made a huge difference in the Missouri offense.
I want to make special mention of Kevin Puryear at this point, KP looked rough early but found a way to make some truly huge shots down the stretch and it was really, really, really, nice to see him carry the trophy off the court for the first time in his last go for Braggin’ Rights. But figure this out on Puryear, his Free Throw shooting as a freshman: 83.6%, sophomore: 73.6%, junior: 81.4%, senior: 70.0%. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- It really felt like Torrence Watson was ready to break the game open with a couple of his near-miss threes.
- Xavier Pinson still needs to put on some weight, but he’s got a chance to be something special. And what’s better it looks like he’s completely bought in. Can’t ask for much more from a youngster.
I liked this point from Matt the other day:
HoopLens updated its lineup data, and you can see #Mizzou's growth over the past six games.— Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85) December 24, 2018
- Off PPP: 0.94
- Def PPP: 0.96
- Off PPP: 1.08
- Def PPP: 0.92
Basically, MU's played at a level comparable to teams in the 30s of KP.
I don’t know what the rest of the season is going to involve, but I know this: Cuonzo Martin and his young Tigers are going to fight and scrap like hell to surpass any and all expectations. I’m not sure a top 40 level KP performance is something we can expect considering how difficult the schedule is about to get, but if this team can get and stay inside the 60’s or even crack the 50’s I think that puts them in position to be on the NCAA bubble. Any higher and I think they can work themselves in, which is simply remarkable to say with how they started the year.
Missouri has won Braggin’ Rights for the first time in a while, and now a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC has a realistic shot to play this out into an NCAA tournament berth and that’s wild to think about. So much for a rebuilding year. Congrats on your win Cuonzo Martin, you’ve just raised our expectations over the last four weeks.